Craig Oliver and Norman Smith Leveson spat shows why spinners and hacks will always hate each other

The Leveson Inquiry entertainment goes on, with Tony Blair appearing earlier this week and being engagingly Tony-ish (the bastard), education secretary Michael Gove (a former employee of Rupert Murdoch as a journalist at the The Times) annoying his lordship with his view that a free press means that you have to accept the rough with the smooth (much as he does with education, to less happy effect), with under-fire culture secretary Jeremy Hunt still to take the stand.

But the Government is rattled and none more so than PM David Cameron’s PR man Craig Oliver, a former BBC producer. Here’s Oliver dishing out a wigging to veteran BBC political reporter Norman Smith about his, and the corporation’s, depiction of Hunt as a closet Murdoch supporter in the News Corporation bid for BSkyB (Hunt says he relied on external advice, which he did, but he was still a Murdoch luvvie in spades).

A more revealing depiction of the relationship between spin doctors and journos I’ve yet to see (and that applies just as much to, say, big agency groups and their media oppos as politicians).

Both have a case to make but, ultimately, their ends are different. Oliver wants Hunt off the hook, Smith knows a good story when he sees one.

It also casts an interesting light on BBC news editors and producers. Mostly they’re much younger and less experienced than the grizzled hacks, like Today’s John Humphrys and Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman, that they’re supposed to edit and produce.

The celebrated Rod Liddle, Sunday Times and Spectator columnist, was editor of the Today programme for years, dutifully signing up faith speakers for ‘Thought for the Day,’ as much as an anachronism as playing the national anthem on the programme on the Duke of Edinburgh’s birthday (which he also oversaw). Yet Rod’s forte in print is being as un-PC and disrespectful to just about anyone and everything as he can be. The thinking man’s Millwall supporter (which he also is).

Which may help to explain why Smith (who’s a very good journalist and should probably have become the BBC’s political editor ahead of Nick Robinson) treats his former boss Oliver with weary disdain.

As to Hunt, we’ll see. Like most of his peers on the Tory side of the coalition government (including PM Cameron and chancellor George Osborne) he just seems to have no judgement, sending cringe-making emails to Murdoch lobbyist Fred Michel. In a world without Leveson he might have been in for a promotion, taking over from the hapless Andrew Lansley as health secretary perhaps.

As it is, he may not long survive Leveson QC Robert Jay’s probings. His colleague Michael Gove, who got right up his lordship’s nose today, didn’t do him any favours.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.